How *Not* To Rebrand

By now, you’ve certainly heard about Elon Musk’s rebrand of Twitter to “X.” It’s obviously a terrible branding move. But why is that, precisely? To start, have you noticed that it's almost always referred to in popular media as "X" the social media platform formerly known as Twitter?

The answer lies in the mechanics of rebranding. Done well, rebranding can be a powerful signal to reinvigorate your current customers and attract new ones to an otherwise good product or service whose branding has become stale. A bad or unnecessary rebrand can cause confusion, ridicule, and even anger among current, and soon to be former, customers.

The Twitter rebrand is a textbook example of a bad idea poorly executed. Twitter users and non-users have been left with questions like “What is happening?” and “Why did Elon think this was a good idea?”

We’re left to solve for “X” to discover a quick case study on how not to rebrand your company.

Change Shouldn’t Happen Overnight

Twitter’s brand already had a loyal user base and a reputation built up over years. Advertisers trusted their brands to Twitter’s online community. Elon’s rolled out many hasty changes to the platform this year, like changing the system of verification—all of which reduced the trust users have in the platform, along with the trust brands have in the platform for brand safety. Of course, online businesses are dynamic entities, subject to significant changes over the life of the business. But there’s a limit to the amount of change you can introduce at once before your “new” brand isn’t tied to the “old” brand that got you this far.

If you’re considering a rebrand, let the website formerly known as Twitter be a lesson—first try doing less, and more slowly. Rebranding can disrupt the established identity that brought you initial success and confuse your customers. While some might appreciate the change, others could be disoriented or wary of embracing the "new" you. What’s more, old habits can be hard to break: Your customers might need to be educated over and over again about your rebrand in order for it to stick.

Think about it this way. How long before anyone actually calls that old bird website “X”?

Rebrand Haste Makes Rebrand Waste

Rebrands are expensive, full stop. Ideally, you’re doing plenty of research up front to determine the reasons for your rebrand as well as legal considerations and a communications plan. But that’s only the beginning. By some estimates, Musk’s decision to scrap the logo, and name of the brand—including the iconic “tweet,” mind you—has by some estimates wiped out between $4 billion and $20 billion in value.

Even if the Twitter rebrand was a good idea (it is not), it was rolled out too hastily to seem intentional, and not unlike a last-place team trying to lose all of their remaining games in spectacular fashion.

In a necessary, and well-planned rebrand, the planning phase is crucial and should take up the bulk of the time and effort. Only after meticulous planning should there be actual, physical changes to your brand. Branding is in every part of your business from the sign on your door to the logo on your business cards to your website and product packaging. Your design and IT teams will need to devote a good chunk of time to addressing these areas in a methodical, time-sensitive manner. That’s in addition to all of their other duties to manage the business’ day-to-day objectives. The time and money involved in these extra changes add up quickly. A rebrand done well is expensive. A rebrand done poorly can be catastrophically expensive.

Wait Until You’re Ready

Another way a hasty rebrand can hurt you is if the rebrand rolls out in starts and stops. When Twitter initially rebranded to X, the word “Twitter” was still all over the website. When you don’t get the details right, it can look unprofessional and risk turning your rebrand into a joke. It’s better to take the time to make sure everything is on the same page before you flip the metaphorical switch.

Losing Customer Trust Can Mean Losing Real Money

The trust your brand builds with its customers isn’t just a feel-good element. In accounting, the “goodwill” of a company is a dollar amount assigned to the intangible value of factors like a company’s name, reputation, customer base and employee relations. When you rebrand, you run the risk of greatly reducing that goodwill.

As brand experts here at SCG, we’re generally not in favor of full rebrands. Unless there’s a real, compelling reason to scrap the brand language and imagery, we think it’s almost always better to tweak things than a full overhaul. Case in point: what is “X”? We’re still not sure.

Last edited: 9/12/2023